The Back of Beyond. Windswept in Meemure.
The final 30 kilometers from Hunnasgiriya is rough and rugged. At times the steep incline is precipitous and strong winds that blow across from the Corbet’s Gap and the Knuckles Mountain Range buffet the vehicle. The lonely stretches are devoid of human habitation and we struggle to find people to ask for directions, as Google maps is now inaccessible due to the lack of signals.
Almost two hours later we are at Meemure, known to be one of the remotest villages in Sri Lanka. Navaratne Banda, the owner of Wana Arana, our destination for the weekend, is waiting for us. As this is the last leg of motor-able road, we hoist our luggage on our backs for the final trek to the campsite.
For the next 15 minutes, we walk up not-so-steep inclines and scramble down craggy footpaths until we come to a beautiful campsite replete with tall, shady trees, clean grounds and four tents. The centre of the campsite is set in a clearing with wooden benches and sawed off tree trunks (that double up as tabletops), making it an ideal place to congregate and enjoy camaraderie. A separate outhouse makes up two toilets with outdoor showers under the tree canopy.
We unpack and prepare to trek through the paddy fields, which are parched post harvesting. The surrounding area is dry and a warm breeze gives us respite from the humid afternoon air.
Looking up, just ahead of us is the Lakegala Mountain, a massive monolith rising up almost 1310m into the sky at a 90-degree angle. Located in the Knuckles Mountain Range, the bare face of the Lakegale Mountain stands as a fabulous backdrop to this sleepy village.
As is expected, fascinating folklore surrounds this ‘Rock of Lanka’. According to one story, King Ravana is supposed to have met Princess Sita, the Queen of Rama beside this rock whilst another story states that Ravana lifted the dhadumonara, the legendary ancient air chariot, from the top of this mountain. Some folks even believe that remnants of the dhadumonara are still hidden in a recess at the top of this mountain.
The Wana Arana team has set up a small cookout in the middle of camp. Lunch is typical Sri Lankan cuisine comprising red rice, pol sambol, kos curry and karawala and is washed down with chilled-in-the-river white wine.
But as the evening wears on, the soft breezes develop into strong winds and the lack of communication means we have no idea that the entire province is undergoing a severe weather warning. The trees around us are swaying dangerously and cups, plates and bottles start flying around. The fires from the BBQ dance and leap from the coals while the flares around the campsite blow off one by one leaving us with a perfect moonlit night. Thankfully our tents are tethered securely.
The next morning, Navaratne comes down and advises us to break camp for fear of falling trees. But by collective agreement we decide to first venture down river and take a much-desired dip in the icy cold water.
We get into the back of an open top lorry and perch precariously, holding on tightly to each other for fear of getting bumped off. The journey is short and uncomfortable. However, the final destination is magical.
As the river flows down gently over rocks and boulders, little pools of water make for ideal bathing spots. The pure, clean water shimmers in the sun that shines through the swinging branches of the trees overhead. Cut away from the rest of the world, the silence of the forest is only disturbed by the twitter of birds and the gentle splashing of the flowing waters. After the initial dread of the icy cold water, and slowly immersing myself bit by bit into the river, I finally lie still and let the soothing waters caress my entire submerged body. Perfect!
Back at camp, we pack up and are ready to head back to safety from the worsening winds.
But a word of caution to travellers, although the A26 from Kandy to Mahiyangana is awesome, the final 30 kms from Hunnasgiriya to Meemure is pretty bad and will require a 4-wheel drive vehicle. The weather at camp is slightly cooler than in Kandy although I suspect that December, during the rainy season, it can get very cold. Needless to say, along with the rains come the leeches so ensure you take adequate precautions and lotions! Apart from that, it is advisable to take a torch, blanket for cold nights, toiletries and charged batteries, as the campsite does not have electricity or mobile signals.